Two Shades of Disapproval

Award Season is underway again (as they like to say on the Coode Street Podcast), and inevitably that means a chorus of disapproval from around the blogosphere. This is the week in which fans everywhere explain why the Hugos have Got It Wrong again, and offer their suggestions for putting things right. You might wonder why those WSFS people don’t get their act together, given this wealth of helpful ideas. Well, here’s some food for thought.

Exhibit 1 is James over at Big Dumb Object. This year the Hugos once again broke the record for the number of nominating ballots. There were 1101 of them. James thinks that this number is depressingly small. He wants the Hugos to be truly representative of what science fiction and fantasy fans like, and he thinks we won’t get that unless we have far more fans voting. There must be millions of them, right?

Exhibit 2 is Larry at the OF Blog. He thinks that this year’s award short lists are an exercise in mediocrity. Even juried awards such as the Clarke and Tiptree fail to satisfy him. He wants an award decided by an elite cadre of literary critics who will pick works that truly deserve to be described as the best of the year.

Both of these bloggers doubtless believe sincerely that the are right. They also want pretty much exactly the opposite results from awards. And that, I submit, is a good example of why the Hugos never manage to “get it right”.

9 thoughts on “Two Shades of Disapproval

  1. Perfect solution – we have a huge worldwide poll to pick the elite cadre of literary critics!

    What could possibly go wrong?

    (I have to admit that people who whine about awards “getting it wrong” just bore me. It does not invalidate any individual’s opinion of the work. If you liked it, does it matter that it didn’t get nommed? If you hated it, does it really hurt that it won?)

  2. That’s an interesting interpretation of what I had written. Yes, I’ve found the nominees for various SF awards that cover 2011 releases to be underwhelming, in part because there weren’t that many books published by SF imprints that had stories that interested me. However, I think you are misrepresenting what I was suggesting. I was musing on the various literary awards that I follow and how there was one that was run by a membership of book reviewers and editors, the National Book Critics Circle. I did not claim that if there were a SF analogue that the results would be objectively “better,” but rather that it would be interesting to see what would be produced since I suspected that it likely would be a “different” list that would showcase things that fans (who are more likely to choose works within set traditions than experimental, thus the “happy medium” quip) and judges (who are constrained by the need for majority consent, or their own “happy medium”) may not emphasize. Nowhere did I claim such would be a more perfect award (the responses I made to comments there reflect that), only that it would likely offer a different perspective and draw attention to works that may be technically brilliant yet for some reason or another have not drawn the attention of fans or the majority consent of a panel of 5. As for the “elite cadre” quip, uh…since when would be newspaper/magazine people who cover SF be considered elite? Would you call Michael Dirda “elite”? Or Lev Grossman when he acts as Time‘s lit/culture reviewer? Or the people who run Amazon’s Omnivoracious or who contribute to B&N’s reviews? Those are the people whose opinions as a body I’d like to hear in addition to the Hugos, the Nebulas, the BSFAs, the BFAs, the World Fantasys, the Dick Award, Tiptree, Clarkes, et al. Just another facet, not the prism through which interpretations of writing should be focused.

    1. Oh, I think I’d fine a jury composed of, say, Michael Dirda, Liz Hand, Lev Grossman, Jeff VanderMeer and Mike Berry very interesting. However, I’m not sure that they’d be significantly different from other juried awards, and if they continued on year after year I’d be worried they’d become as ossified and predictable as the Campbell. Also I certainly wouldn’t expect their tastes to always coincide with mine, even though three of them are friends.

      Then again, I find all awards interesting. I may not agree with their picks, but their results tell me something about the tastes of the groups of people they represent. I get the impression that you expect all awards to adhere to a single, objective standard of quality, and that seems to me like a recipe for disappointment and frustration.

  3. But… most juried awards in the SF/F field DO include critics/reviewers as well as authors. Right?

    These kind of gripes are basically all about people wanting the books they read & liked in the last year to be valued over the opinions of others & it drives me batty. It’s not like current awards juries don’t work their tails off reading widely & choosing their results – they think REALLY HARD about their decisions.

    I’m all for debate and ‘I liked another book better’ but I get so cranky when terms like ‘overlooked’ get bandied about – suggesting that the judges just swooned and failed to notice that particular book’s genius as opposed to, you know, reading it all the way through not liking it very much.

    I understand the frustration – I know that even when I’m on a jury there are books that year I loved that don’t end up being shortlisted, and that’s frustrating enough without looking at it from the outside. But I wish more award critics would be honest and ego-free enough to say ‘I wasn’t keen on those books, here are some I liked better’ instead of declaring that somehow, the system must be BROKEN.

    1. But Larry’s blog post explicitly points out why he thinks this would be different from juried awards? Whether or not one agrees with him, pointing out that there’re critics in a jury won’t help if his suggestion is as much a reaction to the jury system as to the fan voters of e.g. the Hugo and BSFA awards.


  4. “But I wish more award critics would be honest and ego-free enough to say ‘I wasn’t keen on those books, here are some I liked better’ instead of declaring that somehow, the system must be BROKEN.”

    Amen to that. Also, mentioning what you’d rather have on the short list has the strange benefit that other people may then actually go read those works. Christopher Priest’s hissy fit, unfortunate as I found the ad hominem attacks, at least had the merit of saying what he thought was better, the result of which was that I discovered Lavie Tidar’s Osama was available as an ebook in the US. I was so used to the idea that PS Pusblishing books had to be imported, that I’d simply never looked.

    The foul things that get said about works that make the Hugo list seem to be escalating. I’m beginning to think that a nom should come with a Kevlar vest and an umbrella, and even then I’m starting to imagine the nominated writers huddling under their desks screaming, “No! Not a Hugo nomination! Anything else! I’ll be good!”

    A flurry of proposed alternate short lists would be a lot more fun. For everyone.

  5. Perhaps James and Larry should go and have a look at SF Site – – whose current front page (probably being replaced in three or four days) links to two lists, one voted on by SF Site readers (which, I think, in practice means anyone who goes onto the site during the voting period and chooses to vote), and seems to bear some resemblance to what James is asking for, and the other by SF Site editors (not defined, but presumably overlapping heavily with their more frequent reviewers), which seems to bear a faint resemblance to what Larry is asking for. However, I am left with the feeling that neither of them would find the actual results particularly satisfactory.

    1. I think you’re spot on there. I continue to feel that a lot of the people who complain about either juried or popularly-voted awards really mean, “Awards should always reflect my own personal tastes, and if they don’t, then something is wrong on the Internet!” Not that many people would actually phrase it that way, of course, because confronting one’s own biases is rarely comforting.

      I do admit to really wanting to get the people with the “awards must be popularly voted to reflect Real People” opinion directly debating the “awards must be juried by small select groups of Experts” people, rather than being stuck between them as I seem all to often to be. It’s a guilty pleasure along the lines of “Let’s you and him fight.”

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